Worthy of Note: Tom Coburn Laments Bitter Politics

If you watched the opening of the Roberts confirmation hearing on Monday, you might have seen Sen. Tom Coburn fight back tears as he talked about the damage caused by all this hateful partisan bickering. It was a moving speech. (More details at the Campaign for the Court blog.)

Dana Milbank notes that not long before said speech was made, Coburn was in his seat in the hearing room, working intently on a crossword puzzle.

Quick reminder: Mr. Coburn is probably not the best person to be scolding politicians who thrive on divisivenes. At the beginning of a Salon.com story from a year ago is this mystifying quote from the senator: "The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power ... That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. Why do you think we see the rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners? That's a gay agenda."

Oooo-kay. Let's step back for a moment, shall we?

Abortion as part of a gay agenda? Perhaps the good senator would call me naïve, but if there is such a thing as a "gay agenda," I highly doubt abortion is part of it. Fighting discrimination, advocating for marriage rights, perhaps even working for equal treatment under adoption laws would probably be part of such an agenda.

But abortion? I'm not going to go into the logistics of this; I'm sure Sen. Coburn, being a professional obstetrician, is familiar with them. Let's just say that, as I understand biology, unintended pregnancies tend not to be a big worry for lesbians ... and are pretty much completely off the radar for gay men.

Yes, it's lucky for us that we have a leader like Sen. Coburn -- someone who's not afraid to stand up against the polarization and the finger-pointing. Where would we be without his unifying influence?

By Emily Messner |  September 15, 2005; 10:38 AM ET  | Category:  Beltway Perspectives
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Great post Emily!
I think Bill Maher said it best when he said the gay agenda is simple: Starbucks at 8, workout at 9, tanning at 10. lol.
But in truth, the only agenda I am interested in is being able to get married, have a family, and not worry about being beaten, killed, fired, denied housing, denied service, denied the right to serve in the military, denied a voice in the political process, etc., simply because I happen to love a guy and not a girl. Perhaps Sen. Coburn wants less partisian fighting so there'll be more time for scapegoating the troubles of the world on the gays and their immoral agenda.

Posted by: Rusty | September 15, 2005 01:38 PM

"You know, Josh Burkeen is our rep down here in the southeast area. He lives in Colgate and travels out of Atoka. He was telling me lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom. Now think about it. Think about that issue. How is it that that's happened to us?" -- Tom Coburn, 8/31/04.

Tom Coburn is a truly amazing man, in the worst possible way.

Posted by: Tracy | September 15, 2005 02:50 PM

Interesting subject, Emily.
Coburn's comments denote what I've long been suspicious of: Those that oppose abortion oppose it because of the freedom and independence it creates; The term 'pro-life' is what they rally around 'cause they can't just come out and say that they want things back to where it used to be, when women had next to no reproductive rights whatsoever. Anti-abortion people pay lip service to life, but don't really do much beyond attacking abortion to promote life. It's even culminated in a new propoganda called 'the culture of life', which is just another sham concerning people thinking of themselves as saviors of unborn life when they are in fact opponents to individual freedom. That they are stretching the premise to connect abortion with gay rights just goes to show that their talk is exactly that, talk. A true 'culture of life' would also promote a culture of freedom; Dividing life from freedom is a false argument.
As for Coburn lamenting partisanship, forgive me if I am insensitive to his crocodile tears. Since I'm cynical enough to question whether pro-life is what it says it is, I'm also cynical enough to doubt any great partisanship in Washington DC. The Republicans and Democrats have been strange bedfellows for 100+ years now; I find it hard to believe that they are really that great of enemies, since they obviously have a mutual agreement to share power rather than let any outside force interfere with their political dominance. Sure, they may bicker amongst each other for exactly how that power is shared, but they will band together in no time flat if they ever perceive a threat to the status quo that keeps them as the ruling parties. It is foolish for the American people to let only two political parties run the country, and to not think that those political parties will work together to continue their control of governmental power.

Posted by: ErrinF | September 15, 2005 02:57 PM

Empirically, first-past the post, distrct based systems produce two party democracies. In some countries (the UK, Mexico), there's a third, spoiler party (the PAN/PRD in Mexico, the Lib Dems in the UK), but they tend to wax and wane fairly quickly (those Lib Dems keep on keeping on, mostly because of the different political animals that are the 4 regions of the UK, while the PAN and PRD each share power bases in separate parts of Mexico), but you tend not to get much more than that. Yeah, they also make it difficult for anyone else to get involved, but no matter how altruistic our society gets, as long as our setup is the way it is don't get your hopes up for too many alternatives at the national level (at the local level, third parties can be highly successful).

Anyway, I digress. Back to topic: Coburn=hypocrite. Tracy, you beat me to the punch on the lesbianism line; if that wasn't partisan baiting I don't know what is. To be honest, whenever I think of the one-track mindedness of people like Coburn, Vitter, et. al., I think of that woman in Donnie Darko who speaks the immortal line, "Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion", and the American public is like Donnie's mother, embarrassed by the lunacy and outlandish nature of the other person, but goaded into following in lockstep by their use of emotions and guilt.

Posted by: Aaron | September 15, 2005 03:15 PM

Tracy brings up a good point: What is it with certain straight people being obsessed with gay people? Certainly, you don't see a similar number of gay people obsessing about the straights 'running rampant' with their sexuality, so why is the opposite true?
I would blame two factors for this mindset: Puritanism and scapegoatism.
Puritanism entails repression of sexuality, which often leads to obsession about sexuality. Being gay strikes a nerve with so many straight people because it invokes sexuality and sexual thoughts. What's sad is that many gay people are in it for love, not sex. And yet, all the anti-gay people can do is obsess on the sex acts homosexuals partake in, completely ignoring the love aspect because they are A)obsessive about sex, or B)not willing to see the love aspect of homosexuality because love is much tougher to attack than sex. God forbid we accept that gay people need love and are loving people themselves, like most of the human race.
Scapegoatism entails constantly finding a new and unreal enemy to blame all failures on. To some it's terrorists, to others it's communists, and to people like Coburn, it's gays. The homophobes of this country scapegoat the gay people because these very same gaybashers NEED somebody to attack on a daily basis so as to support their skewed view of the world. If you think about it, most any gay sex act happens between two mutually-agreed adults in private... how the hell can that be construed as a threat to anybody else? Coburn and the people he represents simply want an outlet for their hate. For now, the gays will have to be a focus for that hatred until the homophobes find a new make-believe enemy to threaten their smallminded lives.

Posted by: ErrinF | September 15, 2005 03:17 PM

Empirically, there can be a relevant third party in the US if the voters so decided; Nothing prevents it except for our own limited views on our government. The problem is, we are a reactionary country where empiricism has little meaning, blindly perpetuating tradition without question. Of course, my argument here isn't so much about creating a third party to limit the two major parties; What my point is is that the two major parties behave more like one major party, and that claims of great partisanship by people such as Coburn are greatly exagerated and highly dubious.
Sad truth is that there is a third party out there who can cut into the Democrat-Republican stranglehold on government, that third party being Al Qeada unfortunately. Should the political powers-that-be continue to fail to prevent acts of terrorism on our soil, the two increpid, corrupt political parties that run this country will find themselves ousted from power due to a need for self-preservation by the American people. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
But I digress. I'd hate for the subject to be about third parties when it should be more about the two parties we have being the best of buddies, not the best of enemies. Coburn can say what he likes, but, obviously, his words are disconnected from reality and truth.

Posted by: ErrinF | September 15, 2005 03:38 PM


I'm guessing you've never been to a local meeting of Democrats or Republicans. That would pretty much dispel any doubt you have that, despite your theories of a grand cabal, they really do dislike one anothers' policies (even if they are occasional civil in person). Your post indicates that you think they've been in power for so long because of some kind of agreement to exclude competition. That seems like a very complicated possible explanation for a very simple phenomenon - in fact, they each simply want to retain their own share. Dems would be elated if the GOP suddenly disappeared, and vice versa.

In our system, the only effect a third party can possibly have is to spoil the race and put the party it's most opposed to into power. (See also Buchanan, Perot, and Nader.) Unless we change our voting system, it will remain that way. I suppose it's a "Democrat-Republican" conspiracy that they're NOT putting in place another voting system... but then you've got to blame the Founding Fathers for coming up with the system in the first place, right?

And while I'm at it, I think it's quite a stretch to say that pro-lifers hate individual freedom - that's the same logic Bush uses about Al Qaeda! If you can't respect or attempt to understand your opponents' position - and I think pro-lifers generally mean it when they say they believe babies are people with rights, souls, etc. starting at conception, and it's therefore wrong to kill them - you're never going to get very far debating them. I don't agree with them, but I don't think they're evil either.

(On the other hand, I have no explanation at all for the gay-bashing. Try as I might, I just can't understand why that's such a big deal to the right. I guess it's a mixture of fear and a belief that their religious beliefs are being scoffed at. Anyway, I agree with you there - scapegoating, bigotry, etc. are probably the right answers.)

Posted by: Paul | September 15, 2005 08:19 PM

You state your points well, Paul. I disagree with most of them, though, and I feel you are being naive about politicians and those that seek power in this country. I am not concerned with local meetings of Democrats and Republicans, but rather what goes on behind the scenes in the halls of power in Washington DC. Do you really think what you see is what you get when it comes to politicians? I am not touting conspiracy theory here... I am saying that those who wield power like to keep power, and the Dems and the Reps are very comfortable bedfellows, no matter what show gets put on. Of course there are honest differences between them, but if their shared power is ever threatened, they will definitely band together to keep themselves on top of the political game. And, for the record, I engaged in political activism last year with first the Democrats, then the Nader campaign, and even a little for the Republicans; I found them all lacking and inept, so my views here are from personal experience, not just theory.
My views also come from being from a younger generation, not the WW2 generation that is highly conformist or the baby boomer generation that fought the establishment for about two seconds before becoming part of it. I do not accept many of your reactionary assumptions about third parties as anything more than popular myths. There is nothing in the Constitution that denotes how many parties there should be in power. You have little proof that that is how our system functions; Just because it's currently a two party system right now does not mean it is set in stone, or that is what our founding fathers intended. Even if it is geared towards two parties, who says it has to be the two parties currently in power? And what basis do you have for assuming the Dems would like to be rid of the Reps, or vice versa? They are both sharing power so comfortably right now and are both extremely reactionary, so they would not be happy with any great change such as one of them disappearing, as that would jeopardize the power of whichever was left standing.
Also, you are assuming that a third party can only be counterproductive in the American system. This is simply not true; The simple truth is that, if they get enough votes, any third party could rest power from the Republicans and Democrats. Nader, Perot, and Buchanan are all symbols of the past, and our future is what we are discussing right now. Besides, Perot DID have the opportunity to become president, but he personally blew it. If he got as close as he did, so can somebody else down the road, somebody who could do more than just come close, and may actually succeed as a third party candidate. This becomes all the more plausible if the Democrats and Republicans are unable to prevent the next 9/11, if America continues to deteriorate as it has in the last 5 years. Scoff all you like, but one of the few constants in life is change, and time is most definitely on my side in this debate.
As for pro-lifers, I think you missed my point. There's a lot more to the anti-abortion movement than the 'culture of life'. 'Pro-life' may be the main face it wears, but there's a lot more going on there, like trying to rollback the sexual revolution and women's liberation. I have no desire to understand these people better, as I live in California, a state whose constitution guarantees a right to privacy specifically, so reproductive rights are fully protected in my home state, which is good enough for me. I choose to rail against the pro-lifers because they're bullshit; They talk a good game, but do very little to promote quality of life beyond using it to bash abortion. And they are opposed to individual freedom.
Actually, Paul, I think you have missed the points of most of my posts here. The main gist of my arguments have been this: Question authority, challenge conventional wisdom. Instead, you accept authority and buy into conventional wisdom. Maybe you should read some Machiavelli, or go rent the first Matrix movie, as a healthy dose of unconventional, nonconformist thinking might do you some good. Unless, of course, you are happy with the way things are in this country these days.

Posted by: ErrinF | September 16, 2005 04:07 AM

I don't agree with Coburn and there's certainly no "gay agenda," but I don't really get the "logic" of this post. Is it really difficult to imagine how some policy could be part of some group's agenda even though that group did not directly benefit from that policy? Some conserative Christians believe that the the "gay agenda" includes things like abortion because they believe abortion weakens the "traditional" family structure. Since they think the "gay agenda" is about replacing one form of family with another, they believe abortion is part of the "gay agenda" because abortion weakens it.

Note: this is not a defense of Tom Coburn, but rather a criticism of very slopping writing and thinking on this blog.

I'd hope the Washington Post could do better, even on its blogs. Is this blog even edited?

Posted by: joseph | September 17, 2005 04:03 PM

ErrinF - you've made a lot of assumptions about me that aren't true, and should probably be set straight. For instance, I'm 31 - not exactly a boomer. Although I balk at using such tired cliches in my day-to-day writing, I do in fact "question authority and challenge conventional wisdom" quite often. (By the way, which is closer to "conventional wisdom" on the left, - rejecting pro-lifers as people that hate freedom, or trying to bring them into the tent as human beings whose beliefs matter and who can be reasoned with? I'd submit that my philosophy is a lot more unconventional than yours!) And finally, I lived in San Francisco for much of my adult life before returning to the DC area, and I'm familiar with the political culture in both. I have just about NEVER met a Democrat that would be happy to see a Republican win... and come to think of it, there were quite a few Republican donors backing the Nader campaign during the last cycle. Doesn't sound like "one big party" to me at all.

On third parties: The academic research clearly indicates that our system of voting (simple majority voting) is likely to end up with relatively few parties. (As Aaron, another person who obviously has read some of this literature, pointed out in an early post, it's usually two - in some countries with similar systems it's three. That's why he said "empirically"... which you parroted in a later post, without apparently understanding what he meant.) I know you'd love to chalk these up to "my reactionary assumptions", but the point the other poster and I were making is grounded in good solid public policy research. Only if we went to some other system of representation (e.g., instant runoff voting) would we expect to see a different result. There are a few municipal governments that have gone to IRV, but for the most part it's dead on arrival, as - you are right here - the people who have been elected under the old system have no incentive in the world to switch to a different one under which they might lose. It's

As for pro-lifers: That's fine, you're entitled to your opinion that "they hate individual freedom." There is probably even a little truth to it - there is undoubtedly a large part of the right that feels threatened by the sexual revolution and women's rights (and by the "gay agenda", whatever that is). But assuming your state isn't going to secede, you're going to have to learn to deal with them constructively, and the best way to do that is probably by appealing to their good intentions (such as they are). When you choose to only see them as evil, you forfeit any chance to improve the situation.

(And as for your last paragraph: I have not had anything quite so condescending directed at me in a long time, recommending an overdone and outdated screed on the basics of manipulation and a teen-angst movie as the cure for my blind allegiance to "authority" - or, as I think of it, my "actually learning something about the topic." Suffice it to say that I'm a big fan of the Matrix movies, but a guide for political discourse they are not. All I REALLY learned from the Matrix is that everything in life is cooler with Rage Against the Machine theme music.)

Posted by: Paul | September 18, 2005 08:30 PM

Oh, this is priceless:

joseph wrote:
"Note: this is not a defense of Tom Coburn, but rather a criticism of very slopping writing and thinking on this blog."

Exactly whose writing is slopping? Methinks someone has contracted a severe case of hypocrisyitis.

joseph wrote:
"Is this blog even edited?"

I can't speak for Ms. Messner's posts, but your input is proof that comments are not edited. And why is "logic" in quotations? Anyway, I digress.

I see what you're getting at, but your argument about the validity of the perception by the religious right that abortion is part of the gay agenda just doesn't cut the mustard. There is just some idiocy that can't be justified.

Here's the bottom line: I still don't get why abortion would ever benefit gay people. I haven't met too many gay men who have had to get an abortion. And exactly how much does a woman's right to choose directly impact a lesbian? Last I knew, unless you're relying on the virgin birth, a stork or the cabbage patch, you pretty much need a mommy and a daddy to produce an unwanted pregnancy. (Obviously there is IVF, but I don't ever recall hearing of an UNwanted IVF pregnancy).

Just because someone is not in a traditional family doesn't mean they threaten civilization as we know it. Hell, couples DIVORCING are a threat to the traditional family, but you don't argue that abortion is part of the agenda of divorcees because both divorce and abortion 'threaten the traditional family'.

An example of the same logic:
My dog has 4 legs.
My cat has 4 legs.
Therefore, my dog is a cat.


Posted by: Derek | September 19, 2005 10:52 PM

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